Federal Court Rejection of Long-Term Waste Storage at Nuclear Plants a 'Victory'
Nuclear Regulatory Commission must reevaluate the risks associated with long-term storage of nuclear waste at power plants such as Oyster Creek Generating Station
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was asked to reevaluate its plan for spent fuel storage after a federal appeals court threw out a rule that would allow nuclear plants, including Oyster Creek Generating Station, to store radioactive waste on site for up to 60 years after a plant shuts down.
“This is an important victory for the people of New Jersey, on an issue that has significant public health and safety implications, and also the potential to negatively impact the state’s environment,” said Bob Martin, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia unanimously decided that the NRC did not fully evaluate the risks associated with long-term storage of nuclear waste, the Associated Press reported.
"The NRC's Office of General Counsel is reviewing the court's decision and will respond based on the deadlines set by the court,” NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan said.
The court has yet to set deadlines for the NRC to respond to the ruling, Sheehan said.
Last year, New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection said the NRC’s ruling to extend on site storage from 30 to 60 years was unacceptable. The state entered a legal challenge of the NRC’s revised Waste Confidence Rule along with New York, Vermont and Connecticut.
The failure of the NRC to conduct an adequate environmental impact statement was troubling, Martin said in a press release. In its court challenge, the state contended that the NRC acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in developing the new 60-year rule without performing an environmental impact statement as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
The federal court decision is a victory for those living near nuclear plants, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman told the Associated Press. As a result, the NRC will be unable to license or re-license any nuclear plant until it evaluates the risks of on-site storage. Portions of Toms River are within the 10-mile radius of the power plant.
“It’s a huge win,” said Janet Tauro of Grandmothers, Mothers and More for Energy Safety and the New Jersey Environmental Federation. The decision is the one and only that a court has overruled the NRC.
“It’s precedent setting,” she said. “(The NRC) really failed to do their homework on this one. The NRC almost operates as if they’re an independent government. This shows them that they’re not and that they do have the public to answer to.”
The court decision implied that the NRC extended its ruling from 30 to 60 years without considering the risks, dangers and consequences, Tauro said.
“It’s hugely dangerous,” she said. “The ruling really proved that (the NRC) couldn’t prove that it’s going to be safe.”
Tauro added that the court ruling shows the “absolute folly” of the NRC’s recent Waste Confidence Report that will analyze the storage of spent fuel over the course of 200 years onsite and elsewhere.
The NRC’s review of longer-term storage of spent fuel is among the issues to be considered, Sheehan said.
Local advocate William deCamp said the ruling was a “good decision.” deCamp along with the township of Berkeley filed suit in 1994 when housing dry storage at Oyster Creek was originally an issue. The nuclear waste would be stored just 400 feet from Route 9.
“That won’t be safe unless there’s a berm between the storage casks and Route 9,” he said. “I think the court’s decision was a very good one and a responsible one representing the public interest.”
But the ruling raises another question—What should be done with the radioactive wasted produced by United States nuclear power plants?
Oyster Creek has spent fuel rods stored in the reactor building and in dry casks on the site, NRC spokesperson Diane Screnci previously said.
A consent order between the DEP and Exelon Corp., Oyster Creek's owner, allows the company to store its spent nuclear fuel at Oyster Creek until the federal Department of Energy accepts it for permanent storage at a geological repository. But last year, federal government officials announced that they were no longer going to create a nuclear fuel repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
“The Christie Administration believes the federal government has an obligation to develop a permanent plan for nuclear waste storage,” Martin said. “It cannot avoid a solution just by extending the time period in which radioactive waste can remain on sites in New Jersey and across the nation.”
Legislation has been proposed to refund Yucca Mountain, Mayor Mark Dykoff said. Dykoff has been in communication with the township committee to possibly urge Senators Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg to support the legislation. He also intends on contacting Congressman Jon Runyan, Senator Christopher Connors, Assemblyman Brian Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne Gove.
“Being right now, for the foreseeable future, spent fuel will stay in Lacey,” he said. “I applaud any decision that will ensure the safety of the spent fuel.”
Nuclear companies are still putting money towards the federal repository, he said. Towns like Lacey, who will be housing the nuclear waste, should be benefiting from those funds until the government makes a decision.
“I expect the federal government to find an appropriate spent fuel storage site and possibly go against what Harry Reid (Senate Majority Leader, D-Nev., who notably opposed Yucca Mountain) and democrat control has done and reopen Yucca Mountain,” Dykoff said.
Both Tauro and Edith Gbur of Jersey Shore Nuclear Watch don’t see a federal nuclear repository coming to fruition.
“This waste isn’t really going to be going anywhere,” Tauro said. “I don’t think there’s ever going to be a federal repository. No states will want it and it’s too dangerous to transport.”
Gbur added that Yucca Mountain is located in a high-risk area for earthquakes.
“Waste would be coming from 35 states to Yucca Mountain,” she said. “Lets stop producing the waste. That’s the number one thing. There’s no solution. Every time you have a reactor going, you’re increasing the chance of an accident.”
“Unfortunately, nuclear plants all across the country are going to become the Yucca Mountains in a sense,” Tauro said.
Environmentalists and Lacey Township have been “loggerheads” over Oyster Creek for a long time, deCamp said. Although Oyster Creek is set to close in 2019, the spent fuel will remain dangerous for a quarter of a million years.
“It’s going to be a serious problem for the human race basically forever,” he said. “It’s one of the sorriest things to happen.”